Table runners are a stylish and easy way to add colour and texture to your table settings. Beautiful and practical, they can transform an everyday meal into a special occasion.
These long narrow sections of fabric were created in medieval times when eating was a messy business. Traditionally, they ran the length of the table to protect the tablecloth and save unnecessary washing. But there are so many more exciting ways to style your table using table runners.
How to use a table runner
Let’s start with the basics.
Resting in the middle of a bare table under a bowl of fruit or a vase of flowers is how many table runners spend their days. This is an elegant way to protect and showcase your table when it’s not in use. If your centrepiece is colourful or elaborate, choose a table runner in a single colour or with a subtle design. This will act as a neutral backdrop to show off the main feature to best advantage.
Some table runners are works of art in their own right. Allow them to shine by placing something simple in the centre of the runner. A bouquet of flowers in a single colour or a stylish bowl may be all you need to create the perfect tableau.
Choose a shorter runner that sits in the middle of the table or a longer length that hangs over each end. Overhang is entirely personal preference. A drop of between 15cm to 20cm each end is ideal but experiment to decide what suits your table.
How to decorate with a table runner for dining
A table runner along the length of the table is the perfect decoration for casual or formal dining.
Creating a visual focal point, the table runner is the foundation of your styling. Go for a rustic feel with native flowers and wood platters. Add candles and silverware for a formal setting. Co-ordinate with matching or contrasting placemats and napkins to complete the look.
Make sure you don’t build your centrepiece or table decorations too high. That beautiful big vase of flowers may look fabulous but move it across to the sideboard during dinner. Conversation will flow more freely if guests can see each other clearly without obstruction.
Using table runners as placemats
Place the table runner across the table so it effectively becomes two placemats. This contemporary table setting connects diners sitting across from each other. Repeat down the table for as many settings as needed.
Rectangle tables don’t have all the fun. This works beautifully for round and square tables too. Four settings are achieved by laying the runners over each other to create a cross.
Shorter table runners should be used so that they hang down a similar length to a tablecloth. 15cm to 20cm overhang is usually ideal. Too long and they will hang in your guests lap.
The layered look
Layers are everything!
Have you seen table settings that take your breath away? A rustic, country style look that is effortlessly charming. Or an elegant formal dinner that drips with style. It’s very likely layers were the secret ingredient.
The overhang of the table runner should be the same or slightly less than the tablecloth. Avoid having runners longer than the tablecloth.
To achieve the perfect multi-layered style, choose colours and textures to compliment each other. If you have highly patterned crockery, allow it to shine by choosing co-ordinated solid colours for the tablecloth, table runners and napkins.
If your dinner service is a single colour, use one element with a featured pattern and the rest in solid colours. For example, choose a patterned tablecloth with solid colours in the table runners and napkins. Or a solid colour for the tablecloth and napkins with patterned table runners.
Express your creative side by adding centre decorations that suit your décor and style. When in doubt, fresh flowers or foliage are always a good option to create an inviting look.
No need for expensive trips to the florist. You may be surprised what you can find in your garden. Sprigs of jasmine are lovely, or tie up some twigs of rosemary with string.
More table runner decorating tips
Table runners don’t need to stay in the dining room. Add a splash of colour to a chest of drawers, hall table or buffet. Protect the top of the piano. You can even lay a runner across the end of a bed or over a favourite chair.
Wherever you need to protect a surface, add some texture or colour, or focus the eye on a decorative display, table runners are the answer.